AT: Neon Museum Las Vegas

For this installment of Away Things, I’m sharing the fun, fast hour we spent last weekend at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas.

This outdoor museum is not only sassy, it’s also surprisingly beautiful. There’s just something irresistible about these out-to-pasture remnants of Viva Las Vegas.

Also known as the Neon Boneyard, the museum features artfully arranged signage from small establishments like wedding chapels and dry cleaners.

As well as big hotels and casinos like the Moulin Rouge,

Caesars Palace,

And the Stardust Inn, which happens to be as old as me.  Don’t we look fabulous for our age?!

The museum also houses several fiberglass sculptures including a giant skull from the old Treasure Island.  Arrrr!

And this peek-a-boo fellow from The Mysterious East.

I had a hard time paying attention to the very excellent tour guide because I was having so much fun snapping photos of the beautiful shapes and colors in all their decrepit glory. But M.J. tells me that the one hour tour features lots of interesting tidbits about the history of Las Vegas.

As an extra bonus, the visitor center is housed in the restored (and relocated) La Concha Motel lobby designed by Paul Revere Williams in 1961. Williams was a fascinating character — a pioneering African American architect who designed homes for people like Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball as well as notable public buildings including a portion of LAX. The La Concha Motel is considered one of the best preserved examples of futuristic Googie (think The Jetsons) architecture.

If you have time, I’d suggest popping into the nearby Carson Kitchen—located in a renovated midcentury modern motel known as the John E. Carson building—for some innovative (but not too much so) comfort food. We enjoyed classics like burgers and mac & cheese but the broccoli salad and tempura beans were just ducky–and deserved their own marquee treatment.

Tours to the Neon Museum are available day or night but must be booked in advance.  For more information go here.

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Glamping at Home

Before we move too far into the new year, I wanted to share our holiday adventure glamping at home.

Glamping—or glamorous camping—usually happens in a picturesque location and is facilitated by adventure travel companies who set up a safari-like tent with all the comforts of home.  The tents are commonly made of canvas and outfitted with lavishly appointed beds, area rugs and lighting. Gourmet meals are often served and massage services available.

With everyone home for the holidays, our empty nest was shy a guest room so we decided to set up a glamping tent of our own out on the back deck.  I’d provide tasty meals and the kids and their significant others could figure out the foot rubs.

We researched several tent companies and finally settled on Portland-based Beckel Canvas Products.  Primarily because they came highly recommended and could deliver a tent to us on time but also because they’d been part of a West Elm campaign, so that added a little hipster cache.

The deck where we’d be setting up the tent is 12 feet square so we ordered a 9’ x 12’ tent in order to leave space to enter and exit the tent.  (It also meant we wouldn’t have to go to the trouble to move the grill and pots off the deck.) The tents come in standard sizes but are custom made for each order. We opted to add a window on one side but not an opening in the roof to accommodate a fire-burning stove.  This would just be a place to sleep, not somewhere to hunker down while hunting wild boar.

The tent is relatively compact–see the canvas, poles and connectors above.  It’s beautifully made and easy to assemble.  Here are some shots of M.J. and Will putting it together.

Voila!

Then came the fun of outfitting our glamping tent.  We laid down old area rugs that don’t quite work in this house, then placed a new up-off-the-ground air mattress from Frontgate on the left side of the tent. There was still plenty of room to add a chair and a floor lamp.  A garden stool became a night table and some framed postcards of Yellowstone evoked wild(er) places.

The temperatures dropped down below freezing at night so we made sure there were plenty of covers and a space heater plugged into a nearby outlet. Will was the inaugural guest.  He gave it a thumbs up for comfort and privacy, but noted how noisy it was when it rained the first night –”like being inside a drum.”

Curious about how it really felt to sleep there, M.J. and I donned our flannels and spent New Year’s Eve in the tent right before we took it down.  I can report that once you were under the covers, it was toasty enough, though I woke with a cold nose which wasn’t entirely unpleasant and reminded me of times spent camping with our family when they were young.  And then, of course, there was the bracing thrill of running indoors in the dark to the bathroom–which is why I’d recommend this option for youthful guests who can sleep through the night! That said, I hated to leave our little “Out of Africa” retreat in the morning.

Taking the tent down was a snap.

Nevertheless, it was nice to have the family engineer draw helpful diagrams on the pole bag just to make sure we could put it up again on our own.

The tent and furnishings are neatly stowed away now, but I’m already looking forward to glamping again next summer!

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Friday Things: Saying Goodbye to Old Cars

Early this morning we said farewell to a member of the family fleet.  We bought this used Audi A6 when Claire was in high school.  She wanted something cooler to drive than the family mini-van or M.J.’s dented Camry. But fourteen years later (and probably close to 150,000 miles–the odometer broke some time ago) the “cool” car was giving us a good deal of grief.

In the past when the car was having troubles we’d take it to a guy named Mike who wore a leather do-rag and had a penchant for fast cars. He’d tinker with the Audi just enough to keep it going, though he could never get the “check engine” light to stay off for long. Which wasn’t a problem until Will drove it to get his driver’s license and the DMV refused to let him take his test because the light was still on. We had assured him that wouldn’t be a problem.  I’m not sure we’ve been forgiven yet.

The Audi was primarily the kids’ car and took all three of them to early morning seminary, school, sports practices, proms and even honeymoons. When they left it became M.J.’s commute car–fine for short drives to catch the casual carpool but without heat or air conditioning not all that fun to spend time in.  With our move up into the foggy hills it became more crucial to reliably defrost the windows. But Mike’s shop had moved to a less convenient location and even if he had been close by, the heating and air conditioning repairs would have been more than the car was worth.  A few months ago the electrical system started to fail so we couldn’t lock the doors or gas tank and in the last few weeks the car alarm started to go off erratically. So we made the hard decision to let her go.

Before the tow truck sent by the Red Cross took her away, M.J. laid his hands on the hood and thanked the Audi one last time for carrying all that precious cargo all these years.   And me, well I’ve spent the day feeling a little bereft about the empty parking space at the end of the driveway.

Here are a few other things that carried me through this week.

Mirror, mirror on the (exterior) walls–I could see myself in this reflective house.

Ideas for fireplaces and, of interest to me now, attractive firewood stacking.

Some thoughts on cooking mindfully.

Beautiful images of Vienna, where I studied abroad in the winter of 1978.

Tom Hanks on his two years at my local community college.

Local Idaho boy makes good–this kid’s from my home town!

New Yorker cartoons in response to Charlie Hebdo.

Common and John Legend perform the Golden Globe winning “Glory.”

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FOG Design+Art 2015

As promised, the second annual FOG Design+Art fair is FUN.  I attended the opening gala last night and was thoroughly entertained by both the furniture and fine art as well as the artfully dressed crowd.

True confession: this was my first art fair (though I’d read this helpful primer beforehand) so I can’t really weigh in on how this stacks up to Art Basel or Art Basel Miami, but seasoned art fair attendees confirmed that this event is both more entertaining and manageable than many of the larger, more established global art fairs.

Held at the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason, the show opens with event planner Stanlee Gatti’s exhibit 21Pop. “Cotton” is the theme for this year’s exploration of  21st century handmade craft and Gatti created a series of cardboard brick shopfronts to showcase cotton growers, dyers, weavers and fiber artists.  He topped off the display with a cotton candy maker producing little clouds of sugary goodness to let you know there were art “treats” ahead.

The rest of the fair included one-of-a-kind furniture and unique artwork from a mix of established and up-and-coming art galleries.  FOG Design+Art runs through Sunday the 18th. All show proceeds benefit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Here’s a bit of what I saw last night–

Cotton grower Sally Fox with her organic cotton.

Weaver Adele Stafford at her loom.

Indigo dyer Kristine Vejar and partner Adrienne Rodriguez demonstrate hand-dying techniques.

Cotton candy maker working hard throughout the night to start the fair off on a sweet note.

Works by well known artists like Damien Hirst and Richard Serra were featured in some of the more established galleries.

Having recently read Mary Coin, I loved seeing this print made from the original negative of Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother.”

This painting by Los Angeles artist Jeffrey Vallance incorporates supermarket names including Albertsons.  This would be fun to own since my father-in-law was a VP there.

Other interesting contemporary work included this faceted aluminum shelf by British industrial designer Michael Young at Hedge.

And these hand-turned side tables designed by Bay Area architect Mark Szumowski and designer Michelle Wempe shown at the Hosfelt Gallery booth are made from unusual woods, including piers found under the San Francisco Transbay Terminal during its current renovation.

Most of the objects and art for sale at FOG reflect the stratospheric prices paid by fine art collectors. But there are some entry-level offerings as well, like this watery-hued rendition of an electric mixer available at the Cultured booth just kitty corner from the cotton candy.  All part of the FUN to be had at the FOG fair!

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Winter Tablescape

Every December I’m itching to throw a dinner party–and never do.  I want to entertain because my house is spiffed up and holiday gatherings have reminded me how much I want to keep in touch with old friends. But by the time I get around to organizing something my calendar and everyone else’s is pretty much full.

However, January’s calendar is relatively empty and this month has just as many long nights that welcome company as December—even if we’re moving into the light rather than away from it.  So when the folks at the vintage furniture shop Chairish asked me to suggest a possible winter tablescape using one of their vintage table accessories, I thought this might be a good time to plan a simple meal with friends.

Looking through the Chairish offerings, I settled on these leaded crystal and silverplated serving tools.

They’d pair nicely with my fine china–something I’m hoping to use more since it works so well with our new modern home.  We picked out the simple black and platinum rimmed bone china thirty-five years ago just before we picked up our diplomas, said “I Do” and headed to the Bay Area to seek our fortunes.  The china came along in our rented U-Haul and has been with us every since.

The pattern is Mikasa’s Solitude and features a white china base rimmed in black and platinum.  When we chose it, it just seemed timeless and fancy.  Now I recognize the Art Deco influences and even a hint of Scandinavian design in the square tea cups with their flared bases.

Ten years later we added some postmodernist bowls designed by the late architect Charles Gwathmey for Swid Powell, a company that produced housewares designed by prominent architects of the 1980s.  These Anniversary bowls incorporate geometric patterns favored by Frank Lloyd Wright and Josef Hoffmann.

Curious to see if the Swid Powell pieces were still available online, I found a heavy platter in a related pattern–Tuxedo, also by Gwathmey–and placed it under the tree this Christmas to surprise M.J.

The graphics are a little bolder and there’s no platinum involved so this should help pair the formal china with a more casual menu.  I’m thinking something like a hearty slow-cooker pot roast recipe served over polenta with a winter vegetable slaw on the side and chocolate cake for dessert.

The Chairish serving pieces would add a touch of frosty glitter to the table.  I’d likely use some vintage crystal candle holders I found nearby at Loot Antiques to add another crystal element.  Because everything is in the same color palette – white/grey/black—and there are repeated geometric elements I think the mix will work.

Now, what tablecloth would provide the best foundation for this rustic but sophisticated meal?  My three options include a solid black tablecloth with a subtle chevron pattern that I bought at Macy’s long ago or a grey and cream paisley brocade picked up at Williams-Sonoma more recently.  The third option would be a lighter white and grey cloth with a yellow stripe around the border that I found in a Parisian department store in 2000 when we did a home exchange in London and tagged on a few days in Paris at the end.  I don’t remember the name of the store, but I do recall bumping into the actress Kirstie Allie there.  She was wearing a green taffeta skirt and looked fabulous, even in her post-Cheers/pre-Jenny Craig years.

Looking forward to longer days and evoking snowy climes elsewhere, I think I’ll go with the lighter French cloth.  I’ll keep the flowers simple—maybe just some simple narcissus as a nod to spring. Now it’s time to ring up a few friends and make this happen!

 

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Friday Things: Wordplay

Like many this time of year, I’ve been indulging in some personal wordplay.  I’ve forgone New Year’s resolutions and instead chosen a single word to focus my intentions for the year.   Last year, knowing that a move was in store, I chose Brave as my guiding word.

Finding, buying and remodeling a new house took courage and guts.  So did hiking to Machu Picchu when a landslide stalled other means of transportation.  Traveling on my own and recovering from being hit by a car were other times in 2014 when I was glad I’d decided to be Brave.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about what I’d like this year’s word to be and kept coming back to a desire to Simplify and Focus.  When I thought about how I wanted my life to feel or how I wanted to react to challenges the word Ease came to mind.

Not to be confused with Easy–that would be tedious, wouldn’t it?—Ease implies foresight, awareness and grace.  It means relinquishing expectations and accepting outcomes. It involves planning and preparation. In other words, it takes work and discipline. But if I can move with greater ease through my days? So worth it.

If you’re interested in exploring a possible word for your year check out Susannah Conway’s Find Your Word exercises or if you’ve already chosen a word, you can meet members of your word “tribe” at One Word 365  (If you want to join my tribe—I am currently the only member “at Ease.”)

In the meantime, here are some New Year’s things that are helping me ease into the year:

Karen Armstrong talks about religion and violence.

A favorite fitness instructor shares some thoughts on right-for-you workout routines.

Forest Bathing.

A dreamy, dramatic coffee table.

Warm, minimalist desk accessories. 

Lampshades lift off.

Smart words by Ira Glass, nicely illustrated.

THE GAP by Ira Glass from Daniel Sax on Vimeo.

And if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out my BANG article about the upcoming FOG Design+Art fair.  Hope to see you there!

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Tidying Up

Over the holidays I discovered that I am was a sock torturer.  M.J. broke the news to me in bed by reading aloud from a book I’d given him for Christmas called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing  by  “tidying consultant” Marie Kondo.

“This lady says to ‘never, ever ball up your socks,’” he said,  glancing at me sideways as I dozed off over a copy of Wild.  “They should be resting right now and yours are doing anything but.”

The book has already sold 2 million copies in Japan and Europe so perhaps you’ve picked up your own copy and have already been admonished by Ms. Kondo to stop folding your socks into misshapen “potato-like lumps.”

If so, you’ve read how your socks “take a brutal beating in their daily work, trapped between your foot and your shoe, enduring pressure and friction to protect your precious feet.”

You probably already knew that the time they spend in your drawer is “their only chance to rest,” and that if you ball them up, they are in a constant state of tension when they should be “on holiday.”

Chastened, I decided to follow Kondo’s advice and take all my socks out of my sock drawer, discard the ones that no longer “sparked joy” and then carefully fold the rest before standing them on end in the drawer.

If you dare, look closely at my sock drawer full of misshapen sock balls in the Before photo above. Then take a gander at the neatly folded socks in this After shot.

After discarding nine joyless pairs (while thanking them for their years of dedicated service), I was left with 35 pairs of colored socks and 9 pairs of white sport socks.  As Kondo predicted, my newly folded socks take up half the space and are all easily visible.  Everyone/thing involved is breathing easier.

Kondo promises that once sorted and organized, your clothing will stay tidy with minimal effort.  Is her approach to clutter life-changing? We’ll see.  But for now at least, finding a pair of socks in the morning is pretty magical.

Does January find you trying new organization techniques?  If so, what and how?

 

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My Favorite Things in 2014

This was a busier than usual holiday season with all the kids and spouses (and a new fiance!) home.  So I’m just now taking a few moments to ponder some favorite things from 2014.  Perhaps you too are finding this Friday more about retrospection than resolutions.  If so, you might also be thinking about some of your favorite things in 2014. With the help of Goodreads, Spotify and my Calendar 5 app here are my top three 2014 things in a range of design and entertainment categories.

Best International Design Things

This was a year of extraordinary travel for me. It’s hard to pick just three highlights, so I fudged a little here.

Macchu Pichu and other wonders of the Andes  - Peru

Swiss Open-Air Museum – Ballenberg, Switzerland

Porsche Museum + Weissenhof Estate – Stuttgart, Germany

Best Domestic Design Things

Matisse: The Cut-Outs (particularly the “Swimming Pool” dining room installation) – MoMA, NYC

Surf Craft – MinGei Museum, San Diego, CA

San Francisco Decorator Showcase 2014

Best Books

Goodreads tells me that I read or listened to 26 books last year.  Looking over the list I could tell you a few things l liked–and some things I didn’t–about every one of them.  But here are the three books published in 2014 that will stay me.

Frog Music - Emma Donoghue

Levels of Life – Julian Barnes

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

Best  Cookbooks

Looking back, I primarily cooked from old favorite cookbooks and blogs. However, three new welcome additions include:

Barefoot Contessa: Make It Ahead - Ina Garten

My Paris Kitchen - David Leibovitz

Plenty - Yotam Ottolenghi

Best Movies

Travel and our mid-year move cut down some of our first run movie watching this year, but three films I expect to recall include:

Beyond the Lights

Boyhood

Noah

Best TV

So little time to watch TV, really, though this is the year I figured out what all the buzz about Scandal and The Americans was about. Otherwise, I sat still long enough to watch these new shows/seasons:

Blackish

Hell on Wheels: Season 4

Jane the Virgin

Best Theater

We saw a number of terrific plays last year including a hilarious/creepy/touching community theater production of Side-Show starring one of M.J.’s work colleagues. Here’s the best of the rest.

The House That Will Not Stand – Berkeley Rep

Tribes – Berkeley Rep

Pygmalion – Cal Shakes

Best Music

According to Spotify’s Year in Music feature, a third of what I listened to last year was folk-pop and I mostly listened to it on Tuesday.  Go figure.  Right now I’m writing this post to a new playlist of unknowns that Spotify has produced for me based on my 2014 history.  Lots of folksy pop tunes—pleasant, not-too-demanding stuff to evoke a mood while I think about other things.  Here are three artists and songs that stood out from the lyrical hushed emotions that were apparently the soundtrack of my 2014:

Mary Lambert – Jessie’s Girl

Noah Gundersen – Poor Man’s Son

James Vincent Morrow – Cavalier

Best Live Music (including Musical Theater)

Though I heard lots of good performances in my church community we didn’t attend too many other concerts or musicals (with the exception of the VERY BAD Idina Menzel vehicle “If/Then” on Broadway) this year.  These three were terrific, nevertheless:

Glen Hansard – Fox Theater, Oakland

Into the Woods – San Francisco Playhouse

The California Revels “An American Journey” – Scottish Rites Theater, Oakland

 

Looking forward to discovering some new favorite things with you in 2015.

 

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So Long 2014!

It’s a cold, blustery New Year’s Eve here in the San Francisco Bay Area.  The forecast says we’ll hover around freezing, but I suspect it’s a little colder than that up here in the Oakland Hills. When M.J. was washing the car this morning for our big kids to take to Palm Desert a thin film of ice formed on the hood as soon as he sprayed it with water.  We’re still nowhere near the -20 degrees my mom reports back in Idaho, but still.

Warm inside, I’m counting my blessings. This was a very good year for me. Hope it was for you, too, and if not, well, here’s to all good things in 2015!

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Travel Gift Ideas

Every year for Christmas my eight siblings and their spouses draw names for gift giving around a particular theme.  Some years the themes have been practical – “emergency supplies” or “favorite cooking tools,” for example. Other years we’ve shopped for entertainment items like an Oscar-winning movie from the year the recipient graduated from high school–which is how “Young Frankenstein” came into my video library.

The past few years we’ve all been traveling to family weddings as the next generation grows up and starts their own little Loosli-related families.  So this year we decided that the theme would be “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” and the gifts would be travel related. Thinking about things that make travel easier and enjoyable for me, I came up with a list of possible gift ideas for our designated recipients—my baby brother Aaron and my oldest brother Brian’s wife Karen. I’m sharing it here, in case you also have someone on your list who likes or needs to travel.

1. A Personalized Packing List. Years ago I created a few packing list spreadsheets based on how I travel.  Basically they fall into a few simple categories—hot or cool weather and weekend or weeklong travel. (Even if I’ll be on the road for multiple weeks, I’ve found a week’s worth of clothes will likely suffice with some strategic laundry maneuvers.) These lists keep me from reinventing the wheel every time I travel and get me out the door with all the essentials. Possible gift: Packing advice book wrapped in your own packing list template and/or a packing app.

2. Travel Bags. I have suitcases in 3 sizes–a true carry-on, a possible carry-on if I squish everything in really tightly and pray the zipper holds, and a larger suitcase that I know I’ll check.

My “personal item” carry on is usually a lightweight Le Sport Sac tote.  Into that tote I’ll throw one or two smaller bags with travel essentials.  The first one is a smaller multi-zipper Le Sport Sac cosmetic bag that carries an old iPod—to save my phone battery—some lipstick, lotion and hand sanitizer.  The second comes along on longer trips and includes a sleep mask, earplugs and a flashlight.  The small bags are always packed, ready to go. I’m thinking this might be a good gift for Karen who is always so organized. Possible Gift: A small colorful bag packed with in-flight essentials.

3. Paper Goods. I keep travel documents, itineraries and pertinent sections of guidebooks (I still prefer a paper copy) in transparent plastic envelopes, one per city/country, to make getting around easier if I’m a little jet-lagged or just disoriented. These folders also store paper ephemera—entrance tickets, brochures, etc.—to review when I’m back home. I also make sure I have a Moleskine notebook on hand to to capture some impressions or contact info. Possible Gift:  Clear plastic envelopes and a Moleskine notebook.


4. Travel Books. I love guidebooks and always pack relevant sections in my travel folders (see above.) But my favorite way to prep for a trip or enhance my time there is to read a novel set where I’ll be traveling.  Some of my best leads for new-to-me books have been found in the literature section of the Rough Guide travel guides. Possible gift: A specific guidebook or novel if I know where the person is traveling or an Amazon gift card with a note designating its purpose.

5. Destination Gift Certificates. As regular readers know, I tend to track down needlework shops wherever I go.  Though I travel to discover new things and places, sometimes it’s nice to drop in to a familiar setting and see how it’s different elsewhere—for example, the cheery yarn shop I visited in remote Oxapampa, Peru last January.

These gifts take a little more research.  For example, my brother Aaron owns a Cold Stone Creamery franchise.  We just spent time together in San Diego at a nephew’s wedding and I noted that he enjoyed checking out the competition at a local ice cream shop near our vacation rental. So I’m thinking a gift certificate to a top-ranked creamery in Las Vegas—our next family wedding destination–might be just the ticket.  Possible Gift: a gift certificate to a restaurant or specialty shop in a city you know your recipient will travel in the next year.

6. Cold Hard (and usually very welcome) Cash.  Years ago when our young family did a home exchange in London, my in-laws gave us a generous cash gift and told us it was to be used for any entrance fees to museums or sights so we wouldn’t forgo opportunities because we were pinching our pennies. Even though we’d saved a tremendous amount by doing a home swap, we were still stretching to afford air fare.  Their gift allowed us to happily explore London without worrying so much about the cost. Possible Gift: A fancy/humorous card and some greenbacks.

Bon Voyage!

 

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Kathryn Pritchett

writes about Things Elemental — where we find shelter, why we connect, what sustains us and how we strut our stuff.

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